Thursday 29 December 2011

Orgasm Inc. (2009)

Orgasm Inc. is a wonderful documentary pulling together the big issues of Big Pharma and feminism. It explores the medicalization of female sexuality, and the intense race by pharmaceutical companies to get FDA approval for a "Viagra for women" that will "cure" them of female sexual dysfunction (FSD). Whether FSD is a real illness, or the "hysteria of the 21st century", is still hotly debated - but Big Pharma plows on, preparing pills, patches and nasal sprays aimed at helping women achieve orgasm. 

The documentary is brief (80 minutes), informative and fun. It swings from hilarious (the San Francisco Museum of Antique Vibrators was particularly wonderful) to tragic (the women who've undergone vaginoplasty or invasive procedures where a tiny vibrator is put in their spinal chord (seriously, W.T.F.)). And, overall, outrage. Outrage both at the medicalization of everything in America (America and New Zealand are the only two countries where pharmaceutical companies can run ads), and at the punitive gaslighting of a culture that tells women they're not "normal" and need to be "fixed" if they don't always orgasm during sex. Indeed, the tragedy is hearing how often the "bad guys" (those scrabbling to find a corrective pill/patch/spray to "cure" women) invoke "normality" - and how internalized that language is. Consider the poor clinical test subject of Orgasmatron-inventor, Dr. Stuart Meloy. This woman, happily married in her 50s, describes "humiliation" at feeling like she's not "normal" because of her FSD diagnosis. Dr. Meloy tells her that "over 80% of women" have FSD. (And did we mention that the original academic article from 1999 basically asked women if they ever didn't feel like having sex? Or didn't enjoy sex?) Just this contradiction was astounding: something that, purportedly, a majority of women have, and it's still classified as abnormal? Something that needs to be labelled and chemically altered? 

The amount of misinformation regarding female sexuality is also, we think, outrageous - and a glaring symptom of our patriarchal, sexist culture (yes, in America). When the Vibrator Museum's curator mentions little old grannies not knowing where their clitoris is, we wanted to laugh and cry. Or the scene where the filmmaker pays a visit to the Dr. Berman's Chicago clinic, where - for the modest price of $1,500 - you too can be shown a porn film while a medical assistant uses a vibrator on you, and then they tell you what you did wrong. For the love of God! Arghhh! 

The documentary's narrative eventually culminates in an FDA hearing over a new testosterone patch by Procter & Gamble - a patch that found, in a clinical study, to increase sexytimes and orgasms for its test subjects. Leaving the issue of publication bias aside, the study was performed on a select subsample of the general female population. When the FDA makes its decision, in the final minutes of the doc, we almost whooped for joy. But we would have appreciated some of the focus to shift more to the sex-positive talking heads: people like Dr. Tiefer and New View, who work to combat both FSD and its products; or the hilarious and wonderful Good Vibes (with a shout-out to Toys in Babeland); or Ray Moynihan and Dr. Kim Wallen, who just talked a lot of plain sense about the whole pseudo-science of it all. 

As it was, the doc was infuriating - but, showing more of the work of these people, we think it would have been inspiring. (We also wanted more on the history of vibrators, since that was hilarious - oh well, onto Sarah Ruhl and Jonathan Pryce now!) A must-watch.

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